Meet Our New Board Member of the Month

September Winner Headshot - rachel kiddell-monroeBy BoardSource

BoardSource and Points of Light are pleased to announce that Rachel Kiddell-Monroe is the newest Board Member of the Month. BoardSource and Points of Light created the Board Member of the Month Award to honor outstanding individuals for their commitment to advancing the public good through exceptional nonprofit board leadership.

Rachel serves as the board president of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), located in Oakland, California. She is a lawyer who resides in Montreal, Quebec.

In nominating Rachel for the Board Member of the Month Award, Jane Andrews, leader of UAEM’s human resources committee, noted the following:

“Rachel, a lawyer residing in Canada, has been an impressive force of leadership as board president of UAEM. Our board consists of recent graduate school alumni, many young physicians and lawyers, who are united by our commitment to creating public access to publicly funded research. Only an individual as renowned, experienced, and inspiring as Rachel would have the guts and the skillset to unite us and guide us through the highs and lows of a start-up nonprofit. Most board members had no prior board experience. Rachel taught each of us what our roles and responsibilities should be and how to complete the necessary business to keep this organization running financially, ethically, and in a mission-oriented way.

“Rachel has guided our organization to establish useful committees, has led us through annual goal-setting, has led critical inventions and reinventions of our five-year organizational strategy, has shepherded our board through times of financial crisis, has singlehandedly raised more funds through her winning personality and top-notch Rolodex than any other board member, and more recently, has led discussions about the importance of adjusting our duties as our board matures. Her sensitivity to personnel issues is unparalleled and has led to true camaraderie among board members as well as with our last two executive directors, both of who received guidance from her frequently as they started their employment.

“With her leadership, our board has developed over the past seven years from a group of individuals whose membership was quite young and who presided over tenuous organizational finances into one that has recruited financial experts, hired highly qualified staff who took over most of the administrative duties, and one with a diverse group of regular donors as well as a large, committed, and international membership base.”

Recently, BoardSource asked Rachel a few questions about her board service:

What inspires you to serve on this board?  There are two parts.  First, our mission of ensuring affordable access to medicines resulting from publically funded medical research carried out on our university campuses. Having worked in in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America with people who died because they could not afford the treatment, this is an issue I am passionate about. Second, the student members. We need new global health leaders and these UAEM members are already showing leadership in global health. They are incredibly committed and bright — it is such a privilege to work with them.  I enjoy helping them present themselves and organize themselves so that they gain more skills and experience, as well as share their knowledge and insights. I wanted UAEM to provide an environment where students are empowered to both act now and gain experience of nonprofit leadership. Part of this is giving them a chance to learn the roles and responsibilities of being a board member firsthand.

 What does leadership mean to you?  Leadership is about being committed to a principle and idea, and then showing people how to make it a reality.  It’s about guiding others and showing them that change can be made. To lead you need to believe in what you are doing, inspire others to believe in it too, and then to be able to organize so that the message is heard.   I believe in being approachable as a leader.   I find this important.  A leader for me is someone people can look up to and get mentorship from.  I also act according to the principles I promote inside UAEM.  What I say is what I do.  I walk the talk, and I strive to be an example for others.

What do you think is the most important quality a nonprofit board should have?  Be driven by an inspiring and concise vision and mission, with clear objectives.  One of the first things I did when I began with UAEM in 2007 was make sure we developed a vision and mission that were owned by all and clear for all. Now, when people are interested in UAEM, they get an immediate feel for what the organization is about and how it aims to reach its goals.  I think a nonprofit board should strive to grow according to the needs of the organization to achieve its objectives and use money entrusted for those goals responsibly and effectively.  I also think it is important to have a strong feeling of collaboration and mutual responsibility among the different board members. A respectful and open atmosphere is essential. While we meet every month on a teleconference, our board only meets twice a year in person.  When we meet we make an effort to make it fun and stimulating and always include a social activity at the end.  One of my favorites is our karaoke night. We laugh a lot and it creates a real sense of bonding.

What is the most important quality for a board member to have?  Aside from being passionate about the issue, a board member needs to be able to listen to others and take into account their views; to be open minded; to be able to communicate and argue a position. If you feel strongly about something, you should ensure you can articulate it and stand by that position. Communication is a critical quality.

What do you consider your most important contribution to UAEM? I am committed to modeling good leadership and empowering young, new leaders. When you are a student, you tend to be treated paternalistically. What I have said is that when we are here together working on access to medicines, we are all equals and as such, we respect each other and recognize each other’s skills and abilities, and use them! I have been on this board for six to seven years and have had no major human resource issues. We have worked hard to promote harmony and openness throughout. I’ve also tried to challenge the classic top-down hierarchy and bring in a flatter structure that puts students and their vision at the center of everything we do.  The board has fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities for the organization but it should not be a distant body.  It needs to be a part of the jigsaw of organizational parts that create the whole.

I came to the organization when it was a network of a few dozen students in the U.S. with no fixed executive director and no secure funding.  We now have more than 120 chapters across the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Europe and new chapters beginning in Nepal, Bangladesh, Singapore, and India.  We have a steady annual budget, a fabulous executive director, and hundreds of students working on critical access to medicines issues on their university campuses.

What does this award mean to you? I feel appreciated and honored. I’m happy to know that our board members are enjoying the organization they are so key in creating. I’m pleased that I can provide leadership for the next generation of leaders.  Of course, it’s also nice to know that I have done something right somewhere!  I hope to carry on supporting UAEM in its international expansion while I also continue with my responsibilities on the international board of Médicins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).


Social Enterprises: Nonprofit vs. For-Profit

photo (4)By Erin Bradrick, senior counsel, NEO Law Group

The twelfth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers, presenters, and sponsors.

The movement towards social enterprises that we’ve seen in the last decade is beginning to reshape both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors — with many nonprofit charitable organizations looking more and more like for-profit entities and vice versa, the rise of joint ventures between nonprofits and for-profits, and increasing numbers of for-profit entities creating and controlling affiliated charities.  Nonprofit boards of directors are moving their organizations towards social enterprise structures in an effort to increase revenues as they face simultaneous challenges of diminishing governmental funding, uncertain philanthropic funding, and increased competition for limited resources.  For-profit entities are similarly operating in an increasingly competitive market and are seeking to differentiate themselves and generate goodwill by self-identifying as social enterprises, sustainable businesses, and/or certified B corporations.  And social entrepreneurs are moving towards sector agnosticism as opposed to limiting pursuit of their charitable goals to traditional nonprofit structures.

As the differences in the activities of nonprofit and for-profit organizations continue to blur with the increasing commercialization of charities and the growth of socially purposed taxable entities, the nonprofit sector will see stronger pushback from regulators and critics.  The IRS will place greater scrutiny on unrelated business taxable income; nonprofits will respond with increased use of taxable subsidiaries; and critics of the “hybrid” entities will become increasingly vocal, warning legislators of the risks of charity-washing and encouraging attorney general oversight.  As a result of this shifting regulatory environment, boards of nonprofit organizations seeking to launch social enterprise ventures must ensure thorough compliance with the applicable laws and regulations and should give careful consideration to the legal structure best suited to the goals and needs of the organization.

Before kicking off a social enterprise venture, the initial threshold questions a nonprofit organization’s leaders should ask are whether the idea is viable and whether the organization has the capacity to make the venture successful.  In evaluating its capacity, the organization should look not only at its financial resources, but also its human, systems, technology, time, administrative, and space resources, and should consider what resources in each of these categories it currently has available, what resources it will need in order to successfully operate the social enterprise venture, and what modifications to its operations it may need to make in order to adjust its available capacity.  The nonprofit should also conduct significant research regarding the relevant market, as well as develop a thoughtful business plan and financial projections.  The organization’s board of directors will also want to take certain steps to ensure that each director has satisfied her or his duties to the organization, including by conducting a reasonable investigation of the contemplated venture, identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest that may arise, and ensuring ongoing legal compliance.

Once an organization’s board has decided to pursue a social enterprise venture, it must determine whether to conduct such activities in-house or through a separate entity.  If the business is related to the organization’s exempt purpose (which is often a complex determination requiring legal advice), or will constitute a small part of its overall activities, it may be easiest to keep it in-house.  However, if the earned income is generated by a trade or business that is regularly carried on and not substantially related to the organization’s exempt purpose, it may generate unrelated business taxable income subject to the unrelated business income tax (UBIT).  Moreover, and more fundamentally, under the commerciality doctrine, an exempt organization cannot engage in more than an insubstantial amount (which is not clearly defined) of unrelated business activity without risking the loss of its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.  If the board is concerned about the possibility that the venture’s activities are unrelated and substantial, structuring the social enterprise in a subsidiary or affiliate organization may be an attractive option and may also provide the existing organization with greater protection from a venture with a higher risk profile and better preservation of the existing organizational culture of the nonprofit.

If, after reasonable investigation, the board determines it is in the organization’s best interest to create a for-profit subsidiary, it again has multiple options as to the legal structure of the entity.  It may choose from among traditional business forms like a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC), which offers fewer formalities than a corporation, but is typically set up as a pass-through tax entity and therefore may not be an appropriate vehicle in which to house a substantial unrelated income-generating business.  Either a corporation or an LLC may also seek to become a Certified B Corporation — a certification provided by the nonprofit B Lab to entities meeting certain social and environmental criteria.

Alternatively, the subsidiary may be structured in one of the newer “hybrid” forms, which currently include the low-profit limited liability company (L3C), the benefit corporation, the flexible purpose corporation, and the social purpose corporation.  The L3C is a form of LLC, but is governed by statutory limitations that are harmonized with the program-related investments (PRIs) regulations and therefore may be more attractive to some private foundation funders, though that has yet to be evidenced on a widespread scale.  Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently permit corporate entities to be formed as benefit corporations, which must pursue the general public benefit in their corporate activities and whose boards must consider the impact of their business decisions on their employees, their suppliers, the environment, and the community at large.  A social purpose corporation must similarly be organized to promote positive effects (or minimize negative effects) on the corporation’s employees, suppliers, or customers; the broader community; or the environment and is permitted, but not required, to state a specific social purpose for which it is organized.  In contrast, the flexible purpose corporation requires the entity to pursue a stated specific public benefit.  In making a determination regarding the legal form of an entity, the most important thing to bear in mind is that form should always follow function.

We have started to see, and will continue to see, shifts in the landscapes of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors due to the increased momentum of the social enterprise movement.  As nonprofit organizations navigate the social enterprise space and as the regulatory environment continues to change, it is particularly important that organizations carefully ensure compliance with applicable laws and statutes and that their boards of directors make informed decisions throughout the process.

Are you considering a social enterprise venture?

Gene Takagi, managing attorney of the NEO Law Group, will be presenting a session on social enterprises at BLF 2013.


Business as Unusual

The “Complete Capital” Approach to Board Engagement

The “Complete Capital” Approach to Board Engagement

By Angela Francis, manager, Nonprofit Finance Fund

The eleventh in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers/presenters/sponsors.

Every year, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) conducts a survey of the nonprofit sector that provides key data on issues like the rising demand for services, shrinking government support, and the precarious financial health of nonprofit organizations. This post explores what these survey results tell us about nonprofit board engagement in tough times.

Since 2009, our survey has asked nonprofit leaders to indicate what management actions they are taking to cope with the recession. In both 2009, 60 percent of nonprofit leaders told us that they were “engaging more closely with the board” by sharing new reports, increasing the number of annual meetings, or stepping up fundraising expectations. But that trend has been steadily declining since then:

Percentage of Respondents Engaging More Closely with the Board, 2009 – 2013

Percentage of Respondents Engaging More Closely with the Board, 2009 - 2013*Note that 2013 represents actions planned, while all other years are reported actions taken.

We were surprised this year when only 41 percent of respondents told us that they planned to work more closely with the board. On the one hand, it is possible that organizations are tapped out. There are certainly very real limits to the time and resources that a volunteer board can give. We’re definitely not encouraging meetings for the sake of meetings, and, at a certain point, it becomes impossible for nonprofits to simply engage “more” with their boards. It’s also possible that nonprofit leaders have become accustomed to operating within the ‘New Normal.’ Perhaps funding uncertainty has just become business as usual, no longer so urgent that it requires additional board meetings. It’s also likely that we’ve all gotten a little better at planning, managing, and expecting the unexpected.

But, unfortunately, the systemic resource challenges facing our sector will not go away just because we’ve gotten better at internally managing them. The big picture takeaway from our 2013 survey results is stark: For a fifth straight year, demand for service continued to rise while funding support is shrinking, or remains unpredictable, at best. It’s beginning to seem like something has to give; business as usual is no longer good enough. At NFF, we’re increasingly witnessing the clear and present need to think differently about the ways that we manage nonprofit organizations.

So what does that mean for an organization’s board? In 2012, we asked survey questions to uncover how nonprofits were working with their boards. The following chart shows the collective response from 3,915 nonprofit managers.

Our board serves as a resource in the following ways:

Our board serves as a resource in the following ways

Most nonprofit managers said that the board was underperforming when it came to fundraising. According to our sampling, 34 percent of nonprofit boards made the “right amount” of donations and a mere 24 percent were willing to leverage their relationships to directly solicit funds for the organization. Only 34 percent of boards were contributing “indirectly” to fundraising efforts through referrals or advice!

The current fundraising environment means that everyone needs to step up their game. But not all board members are recruited for their Rolodex or their wallet, and financial capital is only one type of resource. In order to remain relevant, develop innovative solutions, and meet the increasing demand for their services, nonprofits will also require social, intellectual, and human capital. Solving major societal challenges will only be possible with the right collaborations, partnerships, sector knowledge and new ideas—all things that the board can actively fuel and support. Think beyond the wallet, back to the moment that each member was recruited or voted on to the board: What motivated them to volunteer their time? What made them such a good fit? The answers to these questions can help identify hidden resources that board members can bring to bear on an organization’s most pressing concerns.

To truly go beyond business as usual, the board should think about its fiduciary responsibility as more than fundraising and making budget. The solution is not just “more” board engagement. Rather, the solution lies with board members who can creatively bring a range of available resources to help their organization achieve its mission.

If this topic is of interest to your organization, please join David Greco, vice president at Nonprofit Finance Fund, for his BLF session, Business as Unusual: Adapting the Nonprofit Enterprise.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared at the ASU Lodestar Center blog as part of its Research Friday series.

The Working Board: Our Forgotten Stepchild

photo (4)By Bridget Clark Whitney, executive director, Kids’ Food Basket, and Matthew Downey, program director, Nonprofit Services, Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Grand Valley State University

The tenth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers/presenters/sponsors.   

Small nonprofits offer some of the most cost-effective solutions for addressing our society’s most critical issues. The passion, drive, and tenacity that fuel their work provide vital opportunities for resource-starved communities that struggle to leverage the resources they need to meet even the most basic of needs. In an era when philanthropy is constantly changing its priorities and the government shifts resources away from social services, small nonprofits are more critical than ever to the people and communities they serve. Since the board members of these organizations not only provide oversight and planning, but also execution, they deserve legitimate attention, tools, and support.

Here are some nonprofit realities to consider:

  • The nonprofit sector largely comprises very small organizations with limited resources for staff, if any at all. Roughly 86 percent of all public charities earn annual revenues of $499,999 and less (National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2013).
  • The majority of these organizations will likely always remain small, but will continue to provide meaningful programming to the individuals and communities they serve.
  • When working boards cultivate a culture of learning, strategic planning, active engagement, and staff partnerships, they will be more prepared to manage either growth or crisis.
  • The term “working board” is an informal term that has emerged to describe a governance setting where board members perform not only their fiduciary and strategic duties, but also partner with staff to fulfill management and technical functions.
  • Despite the fact that the majority of nonprofits have a working board, the sector has paid little attention to how they operate. Few resources exist that help small nonprofit organizations understand how to manage the complicated array of roles their board members assume.
  • Organizations with working boards are often encouraged by literature and consultants to transition into a structure with clearer delineation between staff and board roles even though they may never achieve the needed sustainable revenue streams to successfully do so.

Our perspective is that the working board is not a less sophisticated approach to governance structure. Rather, a working board requires a more thoughtfully constructed structure that relies upon diligent consistency in its implementation while maintaining entrepreneurial flexibility and responsiveness as the organization grows and/or adapts to its changing environment.

Nonprofit organizations with small budgets are naturally complicated. They often have big visions and lots of passion, but lack the financial resources they need to achieve all that they set out to do. Yet, despite this key challenge, so many are still able to put forth programming that is meaningful, impactful, and, at times, lifesaving for the people and communities they serve. Faced with the challenge of accomplishing so much with so little, the board and staff members of these organizations naturally seek clear guidelines and strategies for how they can manage their resources in the most effective manner.

At the BLF conference, in our session, “Making the Working Board Work,” we will explore this topic in depth by offering an official definition of the working board along with a model that can be used as a tool to help small nonprofits understand and manage the dynamic interplay between staff and board functions. We will tell the story of Kids’ Food Basket, a Michigan nonprofit organization that successfully grew from a $3,000 grassroots operation to a $4.1 million enterprise that now provides evening meals to roughly 5,500 food insecure children each weekday.

This dynamic and lively session applies both theory and practice in an effort to provide a strategic framework specifically designed for the small nonprofit’s context. We will provide practical tools, thoughtful insights, and lessons learned that can be applied in most nonprofit settings, but are specifically geared to organizations with small budgets. Some of the specific tools and insights we will address include board/staff relationships, adaptive capacity, strategic decision-making, succession planning and transition preparation, committee management and more. The Kids’ Food Basket story will offer a real life context to these concepts. It demonstrates that when managed effectively, small nonprofits can prosper.

What lessons has your working board learned?




Here Be Dragons

dragonBy Heather McLeod Grant, principal/founder, McLeod-Grant Advisors, and Will Novy-Hildesley, founder and CEO, Quicksilver Foundry

The ninth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers/presenters/sponsors.     

We’ve crossed that line at the edge of the map — the line that tethered our expectations, while offering apparent security. We’ve stepped off the edge of the known world and left our comfort zone behind. For there are few fixed formulas — or strategies — in a world where more than 144 billion emails are exchanged daily. Here. Be. Dragons. 

This means we can no longer know, predict, plan, or control the way we used to. We have to put away many of our institutional traditions, assumptions, and narratives in a box marked “nostalgia,” and learn to surf complexity instead. Whether we choose to embrace this reality as novel and exciting, or scary and intimidating — or simultaneously both! — the new normal is upon us.

In this brave new world, centralized authority, bureaucratic inaction, rules that inhibit, and plans that provide only a crutch in the face of uncertainty, represent flawed responses. And yet, these are the habits that we fall back upon, not really knowing that there’s another way.

The insight that “culture eats strategy for lunch” has been around for decades. But what exactly does “strategy” look like when you need to navigate a rapidly changing environment on a daily basis? It is possible that the only way to be strategic today is to ground yourself in a core identity, while cultivating a truly adaptive culture. Teams and organizations now need a “clear line of sight” from every level in the hierarchy, and they need efficient mechanisms for making decisions quickly.

Indeed, we are learning that teams and organizations that remain resilient in challenging environments share these characteristics: clarity of core purpose and an ability to innovate and adapt. We believe that such teams have evolved these habits in a demonstration of Darwinian “cultural selection.” They’ve been able not only to survive, but to thrive amongst the chaos that surrounds them. If we all want to create impact at scale in this brave new world, we need to learn their lessons.

We welcome others interested in our exploration to attend our BLF 2013 session — Core/Explore/Connect/Evolve: Agile and Adaptive Strategies for the New Normal — and join this conversation.


Think Money First

dollarBy Sylia Obagi, director of operations, The Annenberg Foundation

The eighth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers/presenters/sponsors.

Think money first and mission last.

Sounds heretical, I know. But I want every board member to adopt it as a mantra during this year’s BoardSource Leadership Forum, taking place November 7 & 8 in Los Angeles. What’s more, I want you to take the “money first, mission last” approach back to your organizations to engage your colleagues and nonprofit staff in a new kind of conversation.


Thinking “money first” is the only way to put an organization’s sustainability first. It’s also helps nonprofit organizations make the greatest difference with every dollar that passes through their hands.

In 2007, the Annenberg Foundation launched Annenberg Alchemy, the free leadership training program for nonprofit board chairs and executive directors. Since then, we’ve trained more than 700 nonprofit organizations and 1,700 nonprofit leaders. Over those seven years, I’ve seen the genuine dedication board members feel for the mission of their chosen nonprofit. That dedication often manifests itself in a culture of “mission first, money last” — just the opposite of the paradigm I am now proposing.

Nonprofit leadership is dedicated to service and helping others, but good intentions are not enough by themselves.  Many of us have witnessed wonderful organizations falling into the trap of delivering more and more services without raising matching revenue. Certainly, training and education are vital to good board governance. ( But so is courage. The courage to face a simple fact: Mission cannot be carried out without financial planning and adequate fundraising.

“Money first, mission last!” That’s the real way to deliver ongoing service. We must be grateful for the talent, passion, and perseverance of our nonprofit leaders as they operate in one of the toughest fiscal and economic climates we’ve ever seen. We must always value the compassion and inspiration that motivate such leaders to improve lives and communities. But let’s face it, when it comes to board leadership, there is nothing more important than being willing to get out and fundraise for your cause.

Today’s economic reality gives us all a strong motivation to act. If we take a look at just three federal agencies —  the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services — we see spending cuts amounting to $62 billion dollars due to the sequester. To make the story even bleaker, this reduction does not include city cuts, county cuts, and state cuts! All of which are plaguing cities everywhere.

Private foundations provide about $40 billion per year in grants, most of which goes to the nonprofit sector. The math is clear. Even if all foundation dollars went to offset government spending cuts (and they don’t), there would still be a $22 billion shortfall.

While federal funding shrinks, charitable giving from individuals has remained relatively consistent at about $300 billion per year over the last decade. This is almost eight times more than what private foundations give to the sector. So the money is there, but you won’t get it with a grantwriter! To access this larger pool of money, you need motivated board members as part of an effective fundraising team.

I saw Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge Foundation, speak recently, and he mentioned that he asks grantees: “What are you really committed to?” Then he looks at their actions to see if they correlate with their words.

We can apply this simple idea to board service. If nonprofit board members support the financial strength and sustainability of their organizations, then their actions, logically, should align with their commitment.

In this way, thinking money first establishes credibility as well as sustainability.

I think we already know what we need to do. We don’t need another study to tell us that successful organizations have engaged, motivated, fundraising board members. Now is the time to start thinking about the role you can play to help your nonprofit bring in the money it needs. Now is the time for board members to get advice, get training if needed, and take action.

You’ve made the commitment, now get ready to make the ask.

The Annenberg Foundation is a sponsor of the BoardSource Leadership Forum.  We thank them for their support.

Meet our new Board Member of the Month

nelsonBy BoardSource

BoardSource and Points of Light are pleased to announce that Allen Nelson is the August 2013 Board Member of the Month. BoardSource and Points of Light created the award to honor outstanding individuals for their commitment to advancing the public good through exceptional nonprofit board leadership.

Allen is the board chair of Atlanta Ballet. Professionally, he is executive vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief administrative officer of Crawford & Company.

In nominating Allen for this award, Arturo Jacobus, executive director of Atlanta Ballet, noted the following:

“Allen’s time as chairman of the board has been one of many successes. In addition to completing the largest and most successful capital campaign in Atlanta Ballet’s history, the organization achieved several other milestones, including the sale of our former building, the grand opening of the Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre, the return of the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, five campaign gifts of $1 million or more, critical investments for artistic programming, expansion of the endowment, and the establishment of a case reserve fund and an artistic innovation fund. To him, it isn’t a job; he has a genuine passion for this organization, the art form, the staff, and most important, the artists. It is his experience, ability, skill, and nature that allow him to be a knowledgeable and wise leader for the Atlanta Ballet board.”

Recently, BoardSource asked Allen a few questions about his board service:

What inspires you to serve on this board?

I am very interested in ballet. My wife is a ballet dancer, and when we moved to Atlanta, we became involved with Atlanta Ballet. I had a friend of the board and was invited to join.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is about setting a vision or allowing other people to set the vision and then providing resources and guidance to help achieve that vision. Leadership is different from management. It is so important to inspire others to act.

What would you say is the most important thing you have contributed to your board?

My enthusiasm for the organization has been important. It has been fun and exciting to watch new board members become engaged and inspired by the organization. Leadership must set the tone, and you need to have an executive director with great business and nonprofit experience. We have been very deliberate about how we are building our board, and it is has been very important to focus on the fact that the point of the organization is the art. The board has set that as the tone.

What do you consider the most important quality in a nonprofit board to attract good board members?

A recognition that you need different skill sets, diversity, thought, culture, and other characteristics. Boards should be collegial. You should be a board of trustees, not the managers of the business. The board is there to give advice and set strategic direction, and it is important to recognize that each member has something to contribute. When recruiting, it is important to look past “big names” and look for members who will be engaged.

What is your advice to other aspiring board members on how to make a difference?

It is tremendously important to understand yourself enough to know what you can give. You also need to understand what the organization is about and what can engage your mind and heart with that organization. While some people are passionate about fundraising, most are not. Know what you are good at before you join, and be ready to share that expertise with the board.

Interested in recognizing an outstanding board member for his or her contribution to your organization? Nominate him or her here.






Taming the Social Media Beast

photo2By Rebecca Gordon, The Rebecca Gordon Group

The seventh in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers.

Do you remember what life was like at work before social media existed?  When I started my nonprofit career, my biggest fear was the copy machine breaking down (and it always broke down) while trying to get a grant or our newsletter out the door.  It took all day to copy, fold, and sort our newsletters.  I don’t even remember when I — and everyone else —got my first e-mail address and we started communicating that way.  Why is that?  It was a watershed moment!

Social media has been the great communications game-changer, and even though we may be a bit nostalgic for the old ways, the beast has been let loose.

  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.
  • The equivalent of 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. (source: Relevancy Group)
  • Seventy-four percent of consumers rely on social networks to guide their purchase decisions. (SproutSocial)
  • Twitter has 100+ active users; there are 250 million tweets per day. (source: Nielsen Online)

The good news is that social media communications offers nonprofits an opportunity to more easily do what we are good at —connect and cultivate communities, partners, donors, and friends, who are the lifeblood of meeting our missions and changing the world.

Here are my top tips for getting nonprofit social media right:

  • Social media is free, but it’s not cheap — Often we engage the least integrated office intern or staff member to handle our social media efforts.  This leads to spotty social media communications and actually undermines a nonprofit organization’s success in the social environment.
  • Set goals — What do you want to get out of your social media efforts?  You need to be specific.  Tip: It should not be money.  To be successful, you have to have a solid strategy.
  • Understand your audience — Whom do you want to reach?  In what way?  Having a strong grasp of generational communications is important.  Not all social media is used by the same people in the same way.  For example, if I want to engage high school and/or college volunteers for my organization, Facebook would not be a solution.  I would need to focus on Instagram.  (In case you were not aware, that’s where the kids are these days).
  • Content is “King,” so don’t treat it like the court jester — 57% of Facebook fans “like” a charity or association because they want to publicly display their support of YOU to their friends.  Make sure you content is usable, shareable, and engaging.
  • Embrace the Editorial Calendar — Building an editorial calendar is THE biggest indicator of a nonprofit’s success with social media.  We know how this world works, we come in on Monday with a plan and then everything else happens.  Your social media strategies will be the first thing to go if you don’t have a calendar.  And the only thing worse than not utilizing social media is to start strong and stop three months later.

Want to learn how to tame the beast?  Check out “Creating Something Out of Nothing: Social Media in the Nonprofit Sector” at the 2013 BoardSource Leadership Forum, where we will walk through the jungle together and tame the social media beast.

Do you have any other tips to share?

Board Diversity IS Possible

photo (4)By George Jones, CEO, Bread for the City, and Yanique Redwood, Ph.D., president and CEO, Consumer Health Foundation

The sixth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers.

Much has been written about board diversity (or the lack thereof) on nonprofit and foundation boards. For example, a 2010 Council on Foundations’s survey of approximately 500 foundations found that only 15 percent of foundation board members were people of color. Another study by the Urban Institute found that even in the highly diverse Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region, where people of color comprise a minimum of 40 percent and a high of 70 percent of the population, only 23 percent of nonprofit board members were people of color. Each report conveys a palpable despondency, as if the challenge were so formidable it would be impossible to change.

Here at the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF), we believe it is entirely possible to achieve board diversity. We have experienced it for ourselves, and we are witnessing change on the boards of some of our grantee partners, including Bread for the City (BFC), whose story will be shared here and at the 2013 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Los Angeles.

A Little Background

CHF’s 2013 Board of Trustees has 13 members, eight of whom identify as African-American, Asian-American, or Latino, representing 62 percent of the board. In addition, there are other forms of diversity that we cultivate and monitor (e.g., gender and age) as well as others that we are starting to explore, such as socio-economic position. Because nonprofit and foundation boards are, in general, not currently networked to create and sustain diversity, it will require priority and intentionality.

Racial/ethnic diversity is one of CHF’s highest priorities because we cannot afford to be without any of the knowledge, experience, and networks of more than half the people in our region. We believe this is an imperative — the only way to achieve positive health and social outcomes in an increasingly diverse region. Thus, we make the effort during our annual call for board members to recruit candidates using diverse networks. We also create an inclusive environment and ensure that people of color are in positions of leadership on the board.

In addition, we invest resources to aid our nonprofit partners. Some of them, like us, are striving to prioritize and be intentional about board diversity. BFC is one of them. In their own words, here is a preview of the story they will share at BLF on November 7 and 8.

The Story of Bread for the City

For nearly 40 years, BFC has provided food, clothing, legal, medical, advocacy, and social services to DC residents; almost all (99 percent) of our consumers are people of color, predominantly African American. We have always believed in the importance of a board that includes people who reflect the culture and ethnic heritage of those we serve.  But in the past two years, board diversity has become a priority for us, largely due to the convergence of four new goals adopted in January 2013 through our strategic plan:

1) Increase opportunities for our clients and patients to engage and participate in our poverty relief and social change efforts

2)  Coordinate with and be accountable to our clients and other community stakeholders as we advocate for social justice

3) Consider our work through a racial equity lens, thus affirmatively seeking to reverse the negative socioeconomic outcomes disproportionately experienced by people of color

4)  Convert our medical clinic into a federally qualified health center, that by federal regulation requires a board composition of at least 51 percent consumers

Thanks to a growing partnership with and funding support from CHF, BFC’s staff and board members have attended racial equity workshops over the past two years, and a staff committee is currently finalizing a Racial Equity Action Plan to guide our efforts to include people of color in every aspect of our work, including on our board of directors.

Through a combination of term limits and board members who fully supported the restructuring, we have transformed our board — from 12 Caucasians and six people of color to 11 people of color and five Caucasians.  Eight board members are patients of our medical practice; one serves as secretary of the board. Our consumers, all people of color, now constitute the majority of the board, so it is socio-economically as well as racially diverse.  Stay tuned as our quest for racial and socio-economic justice continues.

How does your quest go?

George and Yanique will be presenting a session titled “Cultivating Board Diversity for Mission Impact” at BLF 2013. Learn more about it here.  Register for BLF here.

Helping Our Staff Help Our Board to Fundraise

photo (4)By Kathy Hedge, principal, Kathy Hedge Nonprofit Consulting

The fifth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers.

A few years ago, an executive director of a small nonprofit confided in me about how tough it was for her to motivate her board to fundraise. She said, “I need my board to be more involved in fundraising so that I won’t have to be!” I was amazed. Having staffed board members in fundraising for many years myself, my immediate thought was, “If you are able to successfully involve your board members in fundraising, you will have more work to do, not less!”

Ever since that conversation, I’ve wondered: Rather than simply addressing the barriers that keep board members from being engaged in fundraising, maybe we should  ask these questions: What are the barriers and misconceptions that keep staff members from being more successful at engaging board members in fundraising? And how can we help staff members overcome those barriers?

Over the past year, while doing research for a book that I am writing for BoardSource on engaging board members in fundraising, I interviewed CEOs, directors of development, board members, and others to better understand what keeps staff from being more successful in this endeavor, and what they can do to turn the situation around. Some common themes I heard included the following:

We forget that board members are volunteers. Board members have busy lives — they do not live in the day-to-day reality of our nonprofit organization the way we do. When we forget this, we don’t provide adequate context and background on issues, and we don’t reinforce the connection to the mission that board members need on a regular basis to keep them engaged and motivated.

We wait for board members to mobilize themselves and take initiative around fundraising. Board members who are uncomfortable with the notion of fundraising are unlikely to step up on their own. In most organizations with professional staff, fundraising is usually a staff-led function that board members assist with, so board members depend on us to mobilize them and give them guidance — respectfully and with a deft touch.

We use a “one size fits all” approach.  Not all board members can or will engage in fundraising activities in the same way. One board member may be great at hosting a social gathering for donors, while another is a natural at thanking donors for their gifts. Staff members who approach the board as a single entity rather than board members individually risk missing out on the unique talents that each board member brings to the table.

So, what can we do?

Rather than trying to “motivate our board members to fundraise,” ask this instead: ‘How can we set up the conditions in which board members will motivate themselves?’ This is not semantics; it’s a game-changer (and it’s grounded in current research on motivation theory). When our framework is to ‘motivate the board,’ we might look for ways to ‘control,’ e.g., to make board members feel pressured to fundraise, and perhaps guilty if they don’t. While pressure and guilt can work to motivate people in the short-run, it is less successful in the long-run. Here’s the better way: Adopt a style that affirms the board member’s perspective and autonomy. This creates an environment that encourages self-motivation. In practice, this means

  • building relationships with board members and listening openly to understand their interests, needs, and concerns. This will help us better understand their individual perspectives and appreciate what they can and want to offer to the organization.
  • providing opportunities for board members to connect with the mission of our organizations in a personal way
  • taking the time to lay out the background and rationale of our fundraising strategy and the board’s role in it
  • inviting (rather than pressuring) board members to become involved in fundraising, and offering choices about what their participation can look like
  • providing training and assistance so board members can be successful at the fundraising activities in which they are engaged
  • providing ongoing support and encouragement, and working with board members in a respectful way

The goal is for board members to engage in fundraising activities because they themselves see the value in it, have a commitment to it, and can be successful at it. Our role as staff is about facilitating that awareness and aspiration.

What do you think?

Kathy will be presenting a session titled “Leaders of the Pack: The Staff’s Guide to Engaging Your Board Members in Fundraising” at BLF 2013. Learn more about it here.  Register for BLF here.

For 25 years, Kathy Hedge has worked with a range of nonprofits where she has supported board member involvement in fundraising. She now offers consulting and training in the areas of fundraising, board development, and strategic planning. She can be reached at



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